We all see things in totally different ways and it can be extremely illuminating to discover quite how much our opinions can vary. I certainly have my own take on Brentford, our pattern of play, our strengths and weaknesses, and from watching the overwhelming majority of games this season I have firm and clearly held views on the role of all the individual players and the benefit that they bring to the team. My match reports and articles regarding the team are therefore clouded and shaped by the opinions I have formed from extensive observation over the past eight months. In my rare moments of reflection I do worry that I might be missing the wood for the trees and that is why it is crucial that I attempt to keep these articles fresh by soliciting the views of others, ideally a cross-section of fanatics such as myself but also some independent football supporters, journalists and players who can bring a fresh approach and objectivity to bear and help ensure that my writing does not become stale and simply repeat my preconceived opinions ad infinitum.
Given that Saturday’s titanic clash at Derby County was going to be televised around the world I thought that it would provide a perfect opportunity to obtain an independent view on Brentford ideally from somebody who knows his football inside out but does not get the opportunity to watch us on a regular basis and therefore had no preconceived ideas on what to expect. Who could be a better choice than Richard Poole, a former Brentford player from forty years ago and a lifelong fan but somebody who, given his new home in the depths of France and despite his regular reading of these articles, is marooned from first hand experience of the football on display at Griffin Park?
I asked Richard if he could write a scouting report on Brentford from a professional’s perspective and given that he forced his way into the team as a teenage striker I also asked him to pay particular attention to Andre Gray and to comment on how well he thought he was coping with Championship football as well as the pressure of being our lone striker in a promotion push. Here is what he had to say:
A couple of days ago I learned to my surprise and delight that Brentford’s trip to Derby County would be shown live on beIN Sports in France and you can imagine just how happy and excited I was at the prospect, as I had previously only seen Brentford once this season at home against what I thought was a very average Middlesbrough side back in January and I had not been too impressed with what I saw that day. It is now 1.15pm (French time) and I am fully prepared for the kick off. There is nobody else in the house, I have locked my girlfriend out and switched off the telephone. The crisps are in the bowl by my chair but there is no beer on Doctor’s orders and my fingernails are already bitten to the quick! I looked at the Brentford team sheet with bemused interest. Who are some of these names? I have read so much about Jota, but is he really José Ignacio Peleteiro Ramallo or have the Bees sneaked in another foreign import?
For the first fifteen minutes our beloved Bees were a bit wobbly and creaked under Derby’s early pressure but from there on in Brentford slowly but surely took control of the game except for another brief spell of pressure from Derby early in the second half. Each and every one of our players worked so hard both on the ball and off. David Button in goal looked a totally different player too from when I last saw him. His handling was excellent and he kicked the ball intelligently up the field, invariably finding a man or served his defenders with the ball whenever he could. I thought that our back four looked very solid with Bidwell defending well and getting forward when needed, and what a fantastic decoy run he made when Pritchard scored – top class! Well I suppose that like everyone who has seen Brentford this year my player of the match was Pritchard, not just because of his wonderfully taken goal, but his work rate was truly excellent and what skill he has. He is an absolute gem and I can only hope that we can keep him next season.
I was so much more impressed by Brentford’s overall performance against Derby than against Middlesbrough. We took a well deserved lead and had so many other chances to have made the game safe but we missed them all unforgivably and I still cannot believe that we only drew this game thanks to a real goal poacher’s goal from Darren Bent who up until that moment had barely been a threat, so dominant were our defenders, and let’s not forget that Bent was an England international not that long ago. I know that he isn’t fancied by many pundits but his goal record speaks for itself.
So how does he compare with our own top goalscorer Andre Gray? Yes I know he is still very young and he does play a thankless role as a lone striker but in all honesty he had about three chances to finish Derby off and he should have taken at least one of them. If I could hark back to my time as a sixteen year old striker at Brentford, I was never a great goalscorer but I made many more for my team mates than I scored myself. When I played upfront there was generally someone up there alongside me to share the workload, like Dave Simmons, Roger Cross, Gordon Sweetzer and even Luther Blissett when I joined Watford, as well as a winger whose job it was to supply crosses for us. I did play quite a few games as a lone striker as well and that was a really hard job so I do understand what Gray is going through. One thing that hasn’t changed in the game is that it is still always the goalscorer who gets the credit and applause. I do think Andre Gray can go a long way with Brentford and he has done so well to become top scorer in his first season at this level, but the key question is whether he will be given the time and patience to develop as a footballer? As for the pressure I can only say what I went through when I was picked for the first team. I am sure I was not ready in my first year at Brentford when we were relegated back down to the fourth division. What I would have given to have been given the chance to try and help my Brentford stay up for our exceptional manager in Frank Blunstone. The problem now is the same irrespective of whether we go up or miss out – we need another striker along Gray. Two strikers are always a better bet than one and as far as I can see Brentford are the only team in the Championship who persist in playing with only one man up top.
I know I singled out Pritchard but there were others as well I could mention in the same breath, like Diagouraga and Odubajo, but this was a team performance of the highest quality. If only we had taken one of the four or five other chances we had! We can and must look at what our weaknesses are and if I am right they have been pretty much the same all season. Forgive me if I am wrong but remember I have only watched two matches all season. We offer no threat whatsoever from corner kicks and there is nowhere near enough height or physical presence in the box from corners and as I said early on in the season, we do not get enough people into the box either at home or away. If we did then a reasonable proportion of those half chances might just be converted.
Take a look at the Manchester derby on Sunday. Yes I know they are both top teams but it is those types of team who we are striving to play against next season. Of the six goals scored how many were scored from inside the box? All six! Yes we scored a quite sensational goal from outside the box but you cannot score wonder goals like that all the time and, yes, there are free kicks which can be devastating too but I understand that Brentford haven’t scored too many from them either! I am not a great Mourinho fan but he was quite right when he said that whilst he loves to watch and applaud long range goals from the likes of Gerrard and Charlie Adam but it is the close range tap ins which are the ones that really count and help win titles. So at the end of this match which I thought we should had won easily we came away with only one point and yes there are some who say well it’s not a bad result for little old Brentford but I don’t agree and really fear that those points dropped will cost us dearly although I still live in hope.
Before Bent scored that late, late goal the match should have been dead and buried and it is not just down to Andre Gray as he is just one of the eleven players on the field. Smith came on and tried his best and its never easy to come off the bench and if there is one player who did not have a good game it was Jota though I might just have caught him on a off day. That being said I now understand and agree with a lot of what the fans have been saying about the Bees since the season began. Brentford played the short game beautifully whenever they could. Button was a masterful and intelligent distributor of the ball both short and long. The midfield was really good but I think that we need a “killer” or someone like Terry Hurlock or Jackie Graham. I was very impressed with the two centre halves and really liked Bidwell too.
I still feel it’s wrong to let Warburton go and if the new manager is not English then I will have my doubts, but I still hope we can go up this year. Yes, all in all we are a lot different from the Brentford of my time but then each team plays to its strengths and we also had some good ball players, especially in John Docherty and the late, lamented Barry Salvage. On a personal note I was far more of a never say die type of person who never gave up and tried his hardest in every game. At Easter 1974 we played Colchester away on Good Friday afternoon and the following day we went to Chester and on Easter Monday we played Colchester at home and I played in all three games, although at Chester I was the substitute and only played in the second half!
The manager, Mike Everitt wanted to rest me as I was only sixteen so before the coach left he said he would take me as thirteenth man in case anyone got sick. I was very disappointed even though I had played the entire game the day before against promotion chasing Colchester, so I asked him if I could play that very morning with the Brentford Juniors team who were at home, but he refused. Anyway Barry Salvage was ill on the bus so I became twelfth man and played all the second half in a draw which would help us avoid having to apply for re-election. The following Saturday we confirmed our status with a win over Bradford City with two goals from Dave Simmons and myself, a day I will never forget, seeing what to me was a packed Griffin Park all stand up and applaud me. One thing that will always stay with me was after the Colchester home game where we fought for a 0-0 draw but fully deserved to have won, was, I think, in the Middlesex Chronicle when Mike Everitt praised me for my work rate and how I tussled for every ball and did not stop running, even at half time! That made me and my family feel so very proud.
Do not forget I played my first game in February against Lincoln City and came off injured in the second half and then returned in the Easter period to play in those games which were so important for our survival as a league team, and all that straight from the South East Counties team as there was still no reserve team that season. Fate decided that I would be the first player to sign professional forms from the newly restored youth system and I was so proud along with all the other players to fight for our Brentford to survive at a time when we could easily have gone under.
It is quite wonderful and amazing to see where we are today and the joy thats brings for our fans but let’s not forget the times when we were forced to play on a shoestring budget. Brentford let me go before the 1976/77 season and I was very surprised when Watford took me on a three month trial and then signed me after I had made my debut for them in our win against Crystal Palace at their place.
You must remember that although Watford were in the same division as us, the set up and the budget were so much better than at Brentford where it was like I was in the stone age. The training facilities were completly different, no more training in Gunnersbury Park like we had to with the Bees, and we were totally focused on promotion although we missed out that year. The year after with Graham Taylor at the helm and Sam Ellis at centre half it was a different story and well, we all know the rest of the story. Maybe it will be Brentford’s turn soon to follow the same path to the top of the tree. The foundations are in place and they are so much better than I expected.